One of my earliest memories is standing by the school gates when my friend’s grandmother worriedly asked me where my mother was. “She’s here!” I cried. “No, that is your babysitter,” she responds. Being mixed-raced, half-English and half-Mauritian, does not seem to be a disadvantage to me now, however that has not always been the case. To the surprise of my friend’s grandmother, the woman in question was in fact my white Eccles-born mother and this moment was the first of many I can recall regarding misunderstandings about my racial and cultural identity.
Oldham, once at the forefront of global history as it led the industrial revolution, nowadays is more commonly known for racism and deprivation. My town, brought to the centre stage of national interest in 2001 following the race riots, still harbours diversity and the racial tensions that may accompany it. 37.6% of the town’s population is of Asian ethnicity and 15% foreign-born. While other parts of the country thrive on diversity, Oldham remains largely divided between races. While I was growing up, my brown skin did not feel something to be proud of. Instead, it was something I sought to hide under the appearance of my mother’s whiteness.
At Royton and Crompton Secondary School where a large proportion of students are non-white and of them, many are Muslim, assumptions continued to be made about my culture and ethnicity. The western identity that I considered myself to have was called into question several times. Instances such as my P.E. teacher missing my name off the register for two straight weeks as she presumed I was off for Ramadan were commonplace and became a large part of my secondary school experience. One day, the five years of racial pigeonholing was brought to a climax when I was called out of my science class. “We are introducing a headscarf into the school uniform that you can buy.” My mother had clearly checked the non-religious box on my student details.
While Oldham Council and Khalid’s CHAI group are working together to strengthen integration in the community, more must be done. From March 2018 to March 2019, police reports have shown a 76% increase of hate crime related to religion in Oldham, in contrast to the 30% decrease in greater Manchester. Evidentially Oldham is currently (and for many years has been) in a worse position in terms of racial integration and perhaps more worrisome is the potential for hate crime which is not reported. Khalid believes that more must be reported and brought into the open. “When have you ever seen a poster about reporting hate crime?” Khalid questions. In a town like Oldham, where hate crime is higher than the national average, Khalid has been encouraging the bureaucratic process of filing a report to become more transparent and be translated into languages spoken by a large proportion of the local population.
In Oldham I experienced racism. Racism, because I was considered to be a follower of a particular religion and belonging to a racial group that I am not. This toxic mentality towards British Asian minorities led me to believe that my English and Mauritian mix gave me a privilege over the other non-white people I knew, and perhaps it has done. However, this is exactly the cycle we need to break away from. I experienced racism in Oldham because of a religious and racial group that people presumed I was a part of. Other people experience racism because they are a part of these religious and racial groups. Years of social separation will not be fixed overnight but the mechanisms through which we combat prejudice exist and should be better utilised by challenging people’s misconceptions where we can do so safely, and reporting hate crime where necessary. As a child it was preferable to prove my total disassociation from my Asian appearance. Now I encourage each person being hated or misunderstood on the basis of their ethnicity or appearance of ethnicity to challenge misconceptions and take pride in being ethnically different.